Review: John Carter (12A)

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An impressive cast is buried beneath the pretensions of John Carter, a loose, over-hyped re-telling of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ tale of a Civil War soldier transported to Mars in the mid 19th century.

A huge, sprawling, impenetrable sci-fi spectacle that labours the concept of parallel worlds, intergalactic war and romance between the elite and the lower classes, it is, unforgivably for a film of such sheer scale and ambition, terminally dull.

Taylor Kitsch is the hero, a Confederate officer who escapes Union custody to seek his fortune. He is somehow whisked across the light years to the red planet – known as Barsoom to its inhabitants – where King Tardos Mors is fighting to save his kingdom and is prepared to offer his daughter, Dejah Thoris, in marriage to his conqueror.

Watching from the sidelines is a race of four-armed aliens who inevitably are drawn into the conflict. Meanwhile Carter, drawn to the beautiful princess, finds his heart leading his courage as he battles to save her, her kingdom and the planet.As a concept John Carter represents the golden age of science-fiction. As a film it’s a mess. Underwhelming quasi steampunk technology, indecipherable names – Burroughs’ stories are packed with confusion – and a flaccid script combine to make this $300m epic the first big disappointment of the year.

Kitsch lacks the charisma and sheer star quality to carry such an endeavour, becoming buried beneath the weight of director Andrew (WALL.E) Stanton’s ambitions. A largely British and Irish cast including Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy and Mark Strong do their best with lacklustre material. The other big-hitters – Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Samantha Morton, Polly Walker – are thrown away as the voices of the aliens.

The stand-out performance in this vapid adventure comes courtesy of Lynn Collins as the feisty princess. In a rambling sci-fi disaster she emerges as a potential new star.